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Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” talks about a certain “event” or the “rupture” in the history of thought. I believe this event has reference to the series of deconstruction pioneered by thinkers like Nietzsche, Freud and Heidegger. They were criticizing the concept of a “center” in the philosophical systems of the West, the center which assures the unity of a discourse. I could speak a little about Martin Heidegger since I read a few things about him. Heidegger was critical of metaphysics, whose source of unity or “center” was the concept of essence. For example, when Heidegger spoke about “truth,” his language was no longer of “connaturality” between the mind and the objective real things, but rather of the mind’s encounter with the unfolding of the thing’s Being. There was no longer a presupposition of an objective essence of a thing that could measure the truthfulness or falsity of an idea. Rather, Heidegger says that truth is the projection of a thing’s Being to an observer’s mind. In effect, truth is but the mind’s determination about the present state of an outside reality. Truth is one’s interpretation or consciousness of a thing or reality. Heidegger’s criticism against metaphysics counts among the events which Derrida refers to when he spoke about the rupture. Derrida was well aware that there are emerging philosophical thoughts that question the existence of a “center” which in the history of metaphysics was equated with essence and presence. Derrida even says, and I think Heidegger has also said the same, that the center or essence has received several names in the history of metaphysics. It was once called as arche, telos, energeia, ousia, consciousness, trascendentality, God or the Spirit. The rupture was basically the moment or event when these previously held cornerstones of metaphysical – or philosophical – thinking are stripped of their previously held privileged status. The talk about the strong center is a basic requirement for a durable building. Carpenters have their so-called cornerstone which holds the entire structure, and without which the entire structure collapses. In our mention of structuralism in our past lectures for example, the meaning of a story rests on a kind of structure or unity that can actually be discerned even in seemingly varied plots of novels or stories. The structure remains more or less the same even if the details are changed. Yet, with the rupture that Derrida talks about, the durability and even the possibility of a center is questioned. Derrida, taking his cue from Strauss contends about the illusionary character and even the impossibility of the center. Derrida noted Strauss’ mythological studies that point out the weaknesses of the epistemological search for unity of a structure. Derrida observes that Strauss’ work criticizes structuralism as it becomes the critique of itself. He cited for example Strauss’ work on The Raw and the Cooked where Strauss uses the concept of a “reference myth.” This “reference myth,” the Bororo myth, is supposedly the center of the structure of his mythology. However, Derrida observes that the Bororo myth deserves no more than any other myth its referential privilege. Then, he surmises that the Bororo myth was favored by Strauss not because of its special character but rather by its irregular position in the midst of a group of myths. This is in itself a criticism of the concept of a structure for in the search of a center, it was shown that there is no valid basis for choosing a particular center. The choice of a center is ultimately still an arbitrary choice.
Pointing out the origins of the critique or denial of a center, Derrida also realizes that words are but mere signifiers void of any real content. The sign is denied of a presence. Language could no longer demand for a unifying center. As already mentioned, the center becomes an impossibility not just because of the breadth of the reality that it tries to signify, but rather also because of the language’s freeplay character. Signs are polysemic or not just polysemic, but its signification is unlimited or undefined. It is the nature of language to defy predefined signification. Once the message is out, it becomes susceptible to infinite interpretation. Hence, here is the entry of post-structuralism. Derrida drags the name of Strauss in order to show that structural analysis of reality is already under investigation and is already facing a possible criticism. Practically, we can inquire as to why structures undergo strong criticisms in our time. Poststructuralism can be said to be a reaction or even a hoped corrective to the weaknesses inherent in structuralism. First, structuralism cannot deny the fact, that the structures it imposes are arbitrary structures. It can even be noted that even the “center” as authority that is operational in our ordinary dealings are not really objectively present in reality but rather are also constructions and in themselves can even be tyrannical and offensive to human persons’ freedom. I remember one heated debate among my co-teachers who were discussing about the need for a textbook in a classroom instruction. The pro-textbook teachers are structuralist in their belief about the textbook as an assurance for a quality instruction. At least, they argue, a textbook assures us that the teacher is telling the students the things that the students need to know. The textbook somehow assures that the lessons are in line with the demands for orthodoxy. However, the unbelievers of textbooks find the imposition of the use of textbooks offensive to their academic freedom. The textbook limits the teacher. The textbook dictates to the teacher. The textbook diminishes the interest for research. It kills the teachers’ eagerness to update their lessons. The structure, in this case, has become both arbitrary and tyrannical. Another example is the implementation of the U-turn slots in our main avenues. The structuralist agendum behind this is the smooth flow of the metropolitan traffic. But for taxi drivers, the structure is a disservice for them. It requires them to burn more gas as they take extra meters just to reach the next turn. They complained that in the past, they could just simply cross the street and save more gas in the process. Of the taxi drivers I consulted about the value of the U-turn slots, majority of them claimed that these structures did less help than to reduce their much needed income. I also remember a friend of mine who is a Secondary School teacher. Their school is currently applying for an accreditation and hence several structures were implemented. They have weekly meetings, they are asked to regularly submit several reports, and they are required to attend several other activities. These are structures that are thought to be assurances of the quality of education that the school would offer. But on the part of the teachers, these structures are arbitrary (for one, they were unsure whether the implementation of a uniform improves their performance in class). The structures are arbitrarily imposed, and in effect, have also become tyrannical.
With these growing criticisms against structures, many people have begun to shy away from it. Many people, for example, hate the structure that implements the use of IDs. These IDs are rather perceived as means for a more efficient control and manipulation. Structures for all their value, are oftentimes arbitrarily implemented and they can oppress the people. Hence, oftentimes, structures are criticized. Derrida warns us about these problems of structures, and he suspects that the potential consequence of oppressive structures is the total rejection of it. He saw the birth of poststructuralism that denies any center and any form of control. Though, he calls this growing phenomenon as a birthing of a monstrosity, he recognizes that poststructuralism is something that can hardly be prevented or avoided. In this so-called manifesto, Derrida tries to show to us that indeed the denial of our structures is coming. It comes from the perspective of freeing people from the tyranny of structures. It liberates those who were once excluded because of structures. Poststructuralism is a liberation for those whom the structures regard as abnormal, as insane, as sick, as sinful, as weak, as ugly, and many other pejorative categories. With the denial of structures, the lesser members of the old society are freed of their old stigma, and so they would welcome the coming of a freer society. In this free society everything is possible. Hence, Derrida calls it freeplay. Everything is acceptable. Anything can be done. A poststructuralist criticizes a basketball game saying: why should these idiots fight for just one ball when they could get a ball for each? Why should they limit themselves to that rectangular court when in fact there are wider spaces at the sides? For poststructuralists, there is freedom in not limiting oneself to structures. The more a person adheres to structure, the more a person limits himself, and hence, the more he loses his opportunity to grow and perfect himself. Derrida believes that there is no way to prevent this increasing appreciation of a nonstructured existence. It would come regardless of the vehement objections of big institutions and authorities. Freeplay is growing, and it has become the more acceptable paradigm or rule (if we are allowed to use these terms in poststructuralism) in our contemporary time. However, Derrida is also worried about the possible outcome that freeplay would bring. If poststructuralism is an undeniable force, it remains to be seen as to what kind of a community an absolute freeplay would bring. If a basketball game would no longer be played in the way it’s done today, and should there come a time when anyone who wills to play could just simply enter the court, bring his/her own basketball and play his/her own undefined game, what kind of basketball games would we then have? If every driver could simply drive in our streets in an absolute freeplay that is, disregarding the structures we set through our traffic rules, what kind of traffic would we have? Derrida is aware that poststructuralism or the denial of structures is coming. But should this denial of structures become absolute, what kind of civilization would we have? Derrida could hardly find any better description than to call it a monstrosity. Joel C. Sagut
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